Just Chaps thanks Iain Paterson for sharing the final leg of this epic adventure:
Day four, now I really hurt! My leg was very bruised by now and I had lovely raw patches on the backs of my thighs from the saddles which were a very different shape to my own rendering my hard earned callouses near useless. However, that wasn’t going to stop me and I set off with the leaders just ahead, the first section was back onto the beach and meant a good amount of cantering for the chase then we were to pass into the Dwesa Nature Reserve. I reached the gates and was stopped by the security lady who was in quite a state as she hadn’t managed to stop the other riders and was therefore determined to get the entry fee from me, I had no money and she would not accept my explanation that I was part of a race and that our entry fee to the park had already been paid! This wasted 5 minutes until the next two riders turned up, one of which thankfully had money and was able to pay for us all to enter the park.
Riding as a pack now we set off in hot pursuit making good time over the open ground and beautiful beaches. This first stage of day 4 was long 43km, and my thighs were burning where the rubs were now raw, this led to my poor fellow riders having to hear copious ooohs and aaaahs everything the horse change direction or speed! However in the latter stages we could see the leading riders just ahead so we kept up the pace to try and catch them, meaning we arrived at the vet check just after them. Everyone had been pushing their horses so the recovery times were a bit longer leading to some frantic cooling. The three leaders vetted through, then me a couple of minutes behind, then the other chasers a couple of minutes behind me. This hold seemed to fly by and before long we were tacking up to go again.
Leaving this check we went straight into low forest so I didn’t bother to get on as I would only have to get straight back off again and leaving the vet check my horse seemed reluctant for the first time, I knew we had gone quite fast and perhaps he was feeling tired having ridden a long way quite quickly and a lot on his own. However, once I was back on he picked up a nice rhythm and we kept on going, not as fast as before but still chasing. A fellow rider caught up with me and we caught up with one of the leaders whose horse had tired and was travelling very slowly, we kept going together with the horses all appreciating each other’s company.
This penultimate stage was really beautiful, the sun was shining, the going was lovely and the company was great. Unfortunately it was here that I started to really feel a bit worse for wear, my camelback had burst on day one leaving me without a way to carry water on course, this meant that I could only drink in the vet holds and the lack of ability to drink while riding was causing problems as the hot African sun quickly dehydrated me. I really should have known better and taken better care of myself but when in the vet holds your focus is on your horse and making sure that they are eating, drinking and comfortable and the rider always seems to be an afterthought!
We came into the last vet check quite steadily but even so my horse had his longest recovery time yet, this I knew was a sign that he was getting tired but he was sound and happy so I was comfortable that he could do the last stage. There unfortunately wasn’t much in the way of drinking water for people at this stop so I knew that this stage was going to be a struggle for me but I was up for giving it my best shot of catching the leaders. Before long tired horse and tired rider were ready to go and we set out alone, again chasing the three leaders with another rider close behind me. The other rider caught me quickly as my horse was not going particularly fast and we set out together. At multiple times I thought I would be left behind as my horse had had enough and refused to go faster than a gentle trot but we kept her in sight and caught her when the navigation got tricky meaning we joined one of the leaders, the same one whose horse had also had enough, again and made a three.
Rich picked up at this point and we all kept up a steady pace, knowing we probably wouldn’t catch the two leaders but all aware that there were still minor placings up for grabs. This final stage was probably the easiest of the race and soon we were close to the finish. At this point however, Rich had had enough and slowed right down, knowing that in my extremely dehydrated state I didn’t have the strength to push him on again. I got left behind and I made up my mind that I would just make sure that no one else passed me.
The last 5km was the longest 5km I have ever done. Rich refused to go out of walk (he was sound, happy and comfortable just a bit tired!) so we plodded on through the hot sun and hoping the finish would come into sight soon. I was quite ill at this point and 2km from the finish had to stop to vomit due to dehydration, not a fun situation and I knew that if I didn’t get to the finish and get a drink soon I would be in trouble so I kept pushing on. Finally, I came over the last hill, leading Rich so as not to tire him out too much and saw the beach with the finish flags! I led Rich down the last hill and through the last bit of forest and mounted again when we got to the beach. Even with the finish in sight Rich refused to go faster than a walk so I had the most sedate finish to a race I have ever had but I did it!
350km through the toughest country imaginable, as well as some unimaginable bits, and I had got to the end, mostly in one piece! Rich vetted through well and I got some electrolytes and started to feel better immediately. Everyone was in great spirits and we all relaxed on the beach while waiting for the next rider to come in who was not far behind me. Once he was in and passed the vet, those of us who were finished were taken to the accommodation to have a shower and sort ourselves out as the other riders were still quite far away. Oh the joys of a warm shower and a proper bed and clothes that aren’t wet when you put them on!
The evening after the race I finally saw the medic for my ankle who suggested we go to hospital for x-rays. This resulted in me being kept in overnight as, although not broken the specialist wanted a good look at it in the morning. He was happy with it and allowed me to return to the finish camp to join in with the celebrations, thank goodness, I would have hated to have missed the party!
The final part of the trip was a traditional Braai and a prize giving in which everyone was awarded a traditional Xhosa blanket, the ladies received a beaded necklace and the men got a traditional Xhosa fighting stick, truly beautiful prizes.
Looking back on the race, it was undoubtedly the toughest undertaking if my life, the terrain was brutal and you could never switch off and just cruise, you always had to be thinking ahead which made it mentally as well as physically exhausting. But the teamwork and camaraderie between everyone involved were incredible Everyone wanted you to succeed and get to the finish, the support crew were amazing, working tirelessly to make sure that we had everything we needed when we needed it, be it food water, or just a hug! The horse team looked after their charges admirably and those are some seriously tough horses, they went over country I would never dream of taking my own horses over.
Finally, Barry Armitage and Rockethorse racing, the organiser of this incredible event are awesome! To put on and run such a mammoth task and be completely tireless throughout was incredible and I am so grateful to them for their hard work and commitment to make this event “the toughest horse race in the world”, a title this race more than lives up to.
If you’re looking for a challenge, find out more about the Wild Coast Race 2019 with Rockethorse.